This post is going to be a little different from my normal content, and on the surface, it will likely seem too personal to have any relevance to your own life – or, more importantly, your business. But if you promise to read it all the way through, I promise to do my best to connect the dots so you can get the most out of it.
This is a post about my greatest personal downfall. It’s about my tragic flaw, if you will. It’s about my pride.
I’ve killed a lot of relationships in my life. I started early, ending my first marriage at the age of 24. Don’t get me wrong: the relationship wasn’t a good one, and walking away from it was ultimately the best decision for me.
But I also learned some unhealthy things from it. These things served me well while I was getting out, but they have now become ingrained and rear their ugly heads.
I learned how to be afraid of repeating the same relationship again.
I learned how to read between the lines whenever any man opens his mouth.
I learned how to tell myself that I’m better off alone.
I learned how to detach my own self-worth from the relationship I’m in.
I learned how to cut my losses early once I could calculate the long-run probability of a relationship working out.
I learned how to carry a grudge and remind myself of an individual’s crimes against me despite their efforts, sincere or otherwise, to change.
All of these got me out of a truly unhealthy relationship that could have been the death of me, but they’ve also left me walking away from relationships that probably could have worked out if only I’d bothered to try.
I don’t want you to misinterpret that as me missing any of my exes or being unsatisfied with my current relationship. I believe everything happens for a reason and I am truly happy with where I have ended up. My relationship feels better than any other, and my boyfriend treats me better than anybody else ever has (by, like, leaps and bounds). I’m happy with where my journey has brought me.
But I have also found myself acting like a less-than-stellar partner recently, and our relationship is still young. I worry about the damage I’m highly likely to do to it if I leave my habits – my coping mechanisms and, at times, my strength and power – unchecked.
Let’s revisit my last relationship for a moment.
We were together for about two and a half years. We were incompatible for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he had little ambition, little direction, and no capacity for planning for the future. Talks of where he wanted to be generally went along the lines of, “I want to buy a house,” and, “I want to go back to school and get my degree.” If you asked him what he wanted to study, he would say, “I don’t know,” and then that would be the end of it. If you asked him whether he was saving for a house, he would say he didn’t make enough money for it and leave it at that.
In other words, despite being one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, he was also one of the most intellectually lazy people I’ve ever met.
He was lazy in other ways, too. I started to resent him when I was working two jobs, working on my MBA, and still finding myself doing the vast majority of the housework. I have a tendency to go a little passive-aggressive during times like that because I refuse to let myself “nag” somebody, so instead I chose to silently seethe.
And that choice is what took away my right to blame anything else on him.
It took me more than four months of silent rage to finally snap at him and ask him to just help me vacuum once in a while.
He was, of course, happy to oblige.
But I still wasn’t happy. Because, as I think most of us have been guilty of, I didn’t want to have to ask. I was resentful that I had to ask in the first place. I was bitter about dating a man who was able to watch me spending several hours of my one day off per week frantically trying to clean up after two people and two cats just so I could finally get a couple hours to relax for once, but who wasn’t willing to offer to help (or, better, to just pick up a damn broom).
But I wasn’t honestly bitter about having to clean by myself, was I? Rage is never about what’s happening in the moment, is it?
I was angry because I felt like I was the only person who was making any effort to get us, as a couple, anywhere. I was angry because I was working two jobs – one of them as his manager, in fact – and because I was working on my degree, and because he seemed completely content and comfortable to sit on the couch and watch Netflix while I studied, while I cleaned, while I planned, while I saved, while I took a 10-minute power nap before heading to my second job…
He had asked me to marry him, and I’d said yes, but I refused to get married until after my degree was finished.
Because if I was going to struggle through and spend all the time and money and heartache on a degree, I wanted my name to be on it, and not his.
We eventually found ourselves in couples’ therapy once he was sleeping on the couch every night. By then, though, I’d done more than enough damage to doom the relationship, but I wasn’t willing to admit my own wrongdoings to myself. I wasn’t willing to take the blame. I told myself it was his laziness and his lack of emotional intelligence and his childhood trauma and his relationship with his parents that had landed us in therapy.
It wasn’t about me or my problems.
In fact, I wasn’t willing to take the blame for anything until about a year later, when I finally decided to cut my losses and walk away for good, that I was willing to take any share of the blame or see him in any sort of positive light.
When I left, I told myself – and everybody else – that he was a good man, and he was even a good boyfriend, but he just wasn’t right for me. Part of me sincerely believed that, I think, but I know that a lot of it was me trying to make myself feel better. I’ve never understood people shit-talking long-term exes. Like, if they were really as bad as you say they were, but I’m not hearing any signs of gaslighting or other abuse, then why did you stay with them that long?
I also don’t understand holding onto anger once a relationship is over. It’s okay to be angry, especially initially, but there comes a time when the anger is no longer serving you, and it seems like you’re just holding onto the hurt, hoping you’ll eventually manage to hurt them, too, if you hurt enough, and I just don’t think that’s how the laws of thermodynamics work, hunty.
But really, I was more willing to forgive him and speak positively of him because my pride was no longer at risk. I could finally admit that I was wrong because it made me feel like a more evolved person if I did, and he wasn’t around to find any pleasure in having been right.
I have to say that I have a big capacity for pride.
I had always been told that pride was a sin and that it could lead to your downfall, but I never understood why. The dictionary definition doesn’t really make it seem so threatening:
a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired
How is that a bad thing?
Why is it so awful for a person to be proud of their own accomplishments?
I think plenty of perfectly healthy people can look back at all their hard work, their smart choices, and their dedication leading them to a certain outcome and feeling proud of themselves for getting there.
So when people told me I was a proud individual, I never understood why it was a bad thing or something to keep an eye on. I never understood that they were pointing out areas for growth.
So I ignored that feedback, and that’s how you end up a 29-year-old with a long, long list of failed relationships, failed friendships, crippling loneliness, and a relationship that’s technically still warm and loving, but already getting steered right toward the same rocks where all your previous boats crashed.
Last week, I felt ignored, so I did what any reasonable person would have done: I immediately started texting my best friend to shit-talk my boyfriend.
We’re not done yet.
Two days ago, I went on a very insistent, argumentative rant about how shitty a movie The Rage: Carrie 2 was (because it totally missed the points about child abuse, religion used as oppression, men’s fear of feminine power and sexuality, etc. and just… was like… oh look prom scene let’s do that) instead of just letting him enjoy a movie because telekinesis.
What the fuck, right?
And to give you the option to laugh at me for my stupidity, do you want to know what we watched instead?
47 Meters Down.
Yeah. The biggest intellectual grand slam of all the shark movies.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
My pride tells me that I should just… keep going. Push ahead, I guess.
In the process of shit-talking him to my best friend, I had also had a couple beers and a couple shots. My tongue got a little loose, so I told him I’d shit-talked him.
He was, of course blindsided. He had no idea I had felt ignored (because why would I have told him directly?).
He asked what he could do about it.
I didn’t have any answers.
That was kind of him.
I said it was okay.
It wasn’t okay, though, was it? Because I was still being a dick and I hadn’t apologized.
Because apologizing is impossibly difficult.
I know that will sound like an easy enough task for a lot of you. If you’re one of them, congratulations on being emotionally well-adjusted.
If apologizing in that situation sounds like a nightmare – if you’ve found yourself silently seething from some kind of ill until you ultimately snap, and the idea of apologizing after getting pushed to the point of snapping alludes you – then you need to hear something:
Your pride cannot kiss your neck.
Your ego cannot spoon you.
Your bitterness and your anger will not keep you warm at night, build big dreams with you, help you raise your children, hold your hand while you walk through the park, grab your butt five times a day, surprise you with chocolate, or give you mind-blowing orgasms.
Only a healthy relationship will get you those things.
When I was in couples’ therapy, the relationship was already doomed because I’d already damned it to hell over the four months of seething silence and self-righteous indignation. Every moment I spent refusing to tell my ex what I wanted, needed, and expected was a moment the relationship was crashing downward.
Relationships don’t have an infinite ability to survive when you’re not feeding them. Your partner can’t do anything to keep your relationship alive – or keep you happy – when you refuse to tell them what you need from them while you still need it. You have to give your partner the opportunity to act like a partner.
I refused to do that, so my mind was already made up. And once we had gotten to the part of therapy where you start to ask for what you want, I refused to participate in a meaningful way. I told myself I didn’t want anything from him. I told myself he had nothing to offer me, anyways. I told him his problems were bigger than our relationship and he didn’t have the capacity to give me what I needed.
I was incredibly unfair to him. I was incredibly toxic. When I left him, I told him that was why, too. I was big enough to admit, in that moment, that I had become the problem in our relationship. I was the reason for its downfall. And I was too proud a person to change myself because I no longer valued the relationship enough to do so.
So I’ve grown a little since then.
After telling my boyfriend that I had shit-talked him, I had a moment of clarity in my slightly buzzed state. It took me about 10 minutes to get there, but I apologized. I acknowledged how fucked up it was for me to talk about him behind his back without even giving him the option or ability to stop hurting me.
After my super-long tirade against a movie he liked, and after somehow getting him to continue to sit on the couch with me long enough to watch all of 47 Meters Down (he really is patient – good lord), I surprised him by finding The Rage: Carrie 2 and putting it on.
I’m making some progress. I’m getting somewhere.
And I’m constantly reminding myself that he can do a much better job of making me happy than my pride ever could.